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The Epic Romeo & Juliet Project Premieres Today

Collaborative effort among teachers--in Grosse Pointe and in Van Meter, Iowa--allowed students to act out and film Shakespeare classic together.

The work of more than 100 freshman English students spanning two states will make its debut today. It's also the first time the students will see the completed version of their own work--a student written, produced, acted and filmed version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. 

For about two months freshman English students--75 from and about 45 from Van Meter High School in Iowa--have worked on the Epic Romeo and Juliet project, English teacher Nicholas Provenzano said. 

Students from Grosse Pointe completed Acts I, III and V. Students from Van Meter, IA, completed Acts II and IV. Provenzano blended all of the acts in video format this week in preparation for today. 

The project involving students from two high schools in vastly different environments was the result of networking among educational professionals. The school year began with smaller collaborations in which the students read the same book and discussed it in small lit groups, Provenzano said. 

Skype is one of the many tools that was essential in making the project work, especially considering Iowa is in a different time zone. Students also blogged about their contribution to the project throughout the two months. They were required to post a blog once or twice a week depending on their job, he said.

"It was important that every student had a role," Provenzano said. "I wanted them to choose their role. That way it was fun for them. If it is assigned then it becomes work and a chore."

At the beginning of the project, students listed their top three picks of jobs they wished to fulfill and Provenzano was able to give everyone their first or second choice. The jobs included writers, actors, cameraman, costume designer and props master. There were also jobs for advertising--specifically with video, print and social media. 

Provenzano organized it so that every time a blog was posted, he was alerted. The students also recently completed persuasive essays about the value of the project. The project was the perfect marriage of core English curriculum and technology. 

Throughout the project, students learned technology basics such as hyperlinking, blogging, uploading photos and addressed technical glitches they encountered during filming. Once they had to re-schedule filming for a scene because the video simply was not on the card despite students doing the work, Provenzano said. 

In addition to the traditional schoolroom learning, the interaction between the students from the two high schools had great value, Provenzano said. In getting to know each other, the students learned they share similar interests, such as music or movies. They also learned they shared similar fears and insecurities about their work with the project--learning the teachers didn't intend but believe was good.

He calls the project the "perfect storm" because Van Meter High School officials couldn't have been better to work with and the students took the project to heart.

"There is something about freshman energy that made this work," he said, noting their willingness to step up and take ownership of the project.

Much of the project had to be filmed and completed outside of school and often students who were not needed for a particular part of the project showed up to support each other, Provenzano said.

The blogs not only worked as a learning tool for the students but it enabled the teachers to get feedback about the project throughout every stage.

"It was good feedback. Some were honest, maybe too honest, in what they were thinking," Provenzano said, laughing.

Watching the students progress during the project was a great experience for Provenzano. There were several moments where he was able to sit back and watch the ideas flow between the students and their use of problem-solving skills, which was telling of just how much thought they put into the project. 

One example included how to handle the change in characters between scenes as each school had separate casts. The students decided to use color as a theme to help pull the entire film together, so each family in the film wore the same color throughout and then at the end Romeo and Juliet where one united color, Provenzano said. 

"This (project) shows me what's possible (in education)," Provenzano said. "If teachers are willing to put down what they've done for 10 years, it can be amazing."

Provenzano is proud of his students, who he said were dedicated and enthusiastic throughout the notably lengthy project. The students blogs can be read through the wikispaces site created specially for the project. Here is what the South Juliet, Emma Aboukasm, had to say during a recent blog:

"We are completely done filming Romeo and Juliet and we're all patiently awaiting the editing of the project over spring break. It was difficult, challenging, stressful, crazy, and also tons of fun. I think I learned a lot about responsibitly and flexability in this project. With things like this, everyone needs to be as available as possible to get what needs to be done. I also learned a lot about the story of Romeo and Juliet and how it's not just a story..."

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